Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

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The Color Guard, A Corporal’s Notes, James Kendall Hosmer.

November 26, 2012

The Color Guard, A Corporal's Notes, James Kendall Hosmer

Nov. 23, 1862.—I propose to keep a diary of my soldiering, and am now making my first entry. Brother Ed. and I are going to the war together. He is nineteen, and leaves a clerk’s desk in an insurance-office. I am older, and leave a minister’s study. It is the 52d Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers. I am in our little tent at Camp N. P. Banks, not far from Jamaica, in Long Island. The tent is perhaps eight feet square, and meant for seven soldiers. A leg of ham partly devoured, with gnawed loaves of bread and some tin cups, lies just at my right foot. Corporal Buffum, six feet and two or three inches tall, is writing home, just at the other foot. Joseph McGill is sleeping, wrapped up in his rubber blanket. The floor of the tent, at the sides, is covered with knapsacks, blankets, and soldiers’ furniture. Silloway, a black-whiskered, fine-looking soldier, puts his head in, but, to my relief, does not enter; for where could I put him while I write?

We left Camp Miller, where the Fifty-second organized, two or three days ago. For the first time, the knapsacks, full-loaded, were packed on, the canteens were filled, the haversacks were crammed with two days’ rations. It was a heavy load as we set off in a cold November rain, nearly a thousand of us, bending over, and with pants rolled up. It rained harder and harder: but Greenfield streets were filled with people; and the nearer we came to the depot, the thicker the crowd. Then came the last parting and hand-shaking: eyes were full, and lips on a tremble. The heart came out grandly in some of the fellows.

At midnight we reached New Haven. Ed. had been on guard at the car-door in the drizzle, and now came off duty. We trundled on to the steamboat-wharf, climbed out, and formed in two lines; many of the boys turning round for their first sight and sniff at salt-water. The “Traveller” was at hand, aboard which, rank after rank, we marched,—on top, between decks, into cabin below, and saloon above.

The morning was gray and wet. It poured as we stood on the forward deck; but my rubber blanket shed the rain, and my havelock, of the same material, kept it off head and neck. On upper deck and lower deck, and through every window, one could see the crowding hundreds,—curious faces, bearded and smooth; dripping blankets and caps; the white string of the canteen crossing the band of the haversack upon the breast. Stout fellows they were, almost all; the pick, for spirit and strength, of two counties. You would not think men were scarce; but I remembered the poor old village, and its Shakspeare Club of fifteen young girls, and only one young fellow available as a beau.

Past great ships, past iron-clads fitting out at the Novelty Works, past the Navy Yard, now down between the two great cities and around the Battery, and stop at a North-river pier, — haversack on one shoulder, canteen on the other. “Now, Silas Dibble, hook on my knapsack, and I will hook on yours;” rubber blanket over all; then helmet, with the long flap down on the shoulders. The march begins. Dirty and hungry we go through the muddy streets. I tread, almost, in old tracks of mine; no longer in broadcloth and patent leathers, but with the iron heel of war well greased with neat’s-foot. Halt in the Park.

The boot-blacking business is stagnant. The “Astor” is gray, hard, and inhospitable like the heavens. “Times,” “Tribune,” and “World” look at us through all their windows, as if they were hungry for an item. It pours and pours. We wind in a long string across the Park; then, in a long string, back again; then, at the end of all the purposeless winding, we come to a purposeless halt.

Ankle-deep, at last, through the mud into the Park Barracks, to breakfast on coarse but wholesome soup. Did any thing ever relish so? Then they take pity on us, and let us go into the City Hall, whose stone corridors we swarm through; and before long the regiment, in good part, is asleep. I go off with my back against a marble pillar. By and by we must fall in again. Ed. is irreverently screaming, “Fall in, Company D!” at the top of his voice, through that echoing marble centre of metropolitan splendor and dignity. The regiment marches up Broadway, is cheered, and, I believe, praised; and climbs, at last, into the great barracks in Franklin Street.

Next day we have a march before us of eight or nine miles,—through Broadway and Grand Street, over the Ferry, into the suburbs; through filth and splendor, mud in the street, brown stone and marble at the side. The drums at the head of the column hardly sound midway down the regiment, through the roar; but we keep our step, and dress across in a tolerable line. Past factories, where sooty faces crowd to the doors; past sugar-refineries, where men, stripped to the waist, come to the windows; past Dutch groceries by the hundred; into a district of cabbage-gardens at last; then into a chaos of brick-kilns, rope-walks, and desolate graveyards.

We tramp in over the old Union race-track at length, upon the enclosed grassy space, and are at our campground. Dreary, dismal, miserable. No overcoats; all perspiration with our march under the burden; no chance for tea or coffee, or any thing warm: a sorry prospect, boys, for comfort to-night. But never mind. Behold how the Yankee will vindicate himself in the face of the worst fortune! Fences are stripped of rails; and we have blazing fires in no time, which make the inhospitable, leaden sky speedily blush for itself. Rubber blankets are tacked together, and tents extemporized. Corporal Buffum, Ed., and I, strike a solemn league. We find two sticks and a long rail. We drive the sticks into the ground for uprights, then lay the rail on top. Buffum and I tack our blankets together with strings through the eyelet-holes. We place the joining along the cross-timber, letting the blankets slope away, roof-fashion, on each side toward the ground, fastening them at the edges with pegs, and strings straining them tight. Then we spread Ed.’s rubber on the ground underneath, put our luggage at one end, and crowd in to try the effect. We have to pack in tight, big Buffum and Ed. not leaving much room for me; but the closer the better. The north-wind blows, and the air threatens snow. We survey our wigwam with great admiration. I lie down for the night with revolver and dirk strapped one on each side, unwashed, bedraggled, and armed like Jack Sheppard himself. We freeze along through the hours. We get into one another’s arms to keep warm as we can, and shiver through till daylight.

When morning comes, all is confusion. The regiment looks as if it had rained down. It is clear, but raw. No chance to wash now, nor all day long. Our tents come. We pitch them in long rows, well ordered; floor them from fences near by; and carpet them with straw and marsh hay. Six or seven of us pack in here like sardines in a box, lying on our sides, “spoonfashion.”

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